Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Letters To Juliet - Home Video Review

Release Date: May 14, 2010

Review Vital Stats:
Format: DVD
Player: LG Model 370
Picture Quality: Standard Definition
Sound Quality: Standard 5.1 Surround

Loves: Italy, Amanda Seyfried
Likes: Romance films 
Neutral: Romance film cliches

"What and if are two words as nonthreatening as words can be, but put them together side by side and they have the power to haunt you the rest of your life."

What if?....what if?...

That pretty much sums up what this film is about. It is about those 'what if' moments, those moments where if you were to turn back time and do it all over again you might just do things a little differently. All of us have these moments both large and small, not a single day goes by where I don't look back at certain points in my life and wonder...what if? There in lies the magic and beauty of Letters to Juliet, it takes that one question which we have all had at one point in our lives and spins us a simple and elegant tale of what happens when we go searching for an answer to it. And how sometimes while looking for those answers from the past that we may in fact find our very own destiny in the process.

Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) works as a fact checker at a publishing firm in New York city, although she has aspirations to become a full fledged writer herself one day. Her and her fiance Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal), a young and eccentric chef starting up his own restaurant, have decided to go on an early honeymoon to Italy. When they arrive Sophie tags along with Victor as he uses their vacation to scavenge all of Italy for suppliers and other master chefs to learn from. It isn't long until she tires of it and the two of them split off from one another to do their own thing, Victor continues his traveling while Sophie stays in town and sight sees on her own. And it isn't just any town that she is in, she is in the town of Verona, the very same location that William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet took place.

Isn't she just adorable.

Verona is somewhat of a tourist spot because of that lineage and during an afternoon stroll Sophie happens upon what could be considered the heart of Verona so to speak. It is a place where lovers separated from their soul mates come to post a letter to Juliet on this old cobblestone wall in hopes of a miracle of some sort. Women flock to this place and put whatever feelings they have in their letters and hope that Juliet can somehow find their lost loves from days past or at the very least give some comforting words. But who is it that actually answers these letters? We soon find out, as does Sophie, that any letters left on the wall at the end of the day are collected and taken to this quaint little home where a group of women have taken it upon themselves to answer ever single one of them. I guess you could call it a Dear Abby service, but for women who have lost all hope of finding their Romeo and need something to hold on to.

With her husband still looking for the perfect cheese, Sophie decides to help out and respond to some of those letters herself. And as luck, or destiny, would have it she comes across a very old letter hidden behind one of the stones on the wall, a letter from a very young teenage girl that had lost her one true love after running away from him and her feelings. Sophie decides, somewhat recklessly I might add, to answer this fifty year old love letter in hopes that it might bring some closure to this persons life. It in fact prompts the original writer of the letter to come back to Verona in search of the man she ran away from all those years ago. That is when she meets Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) and her grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan), whom isn't very happy with Sophie for bringing up what could potentially be a heartbreaking situation for his grandmother.

Victor really likes that cheese.

By this point Sophie has given up on Victor coming back anytime soon so she decides to tag along with Claire and Charlie as they begin a scavenging hunt themselves. But unlike Victor's hunt for the best food and wine Italy has to offer, the three of them are searching for one man. A man by the name of Lorenzo Bartolini, though apparently that name is just about as rare for someone in Italy as John Smith is here. Luckily for Claire and Charlie though they have Sophie with them and she is an expert fact checker who can locate just about anybody. After arriving in this mystery man's hometown she lays out a plan that will help them locate all 74 Lorenzo's over the course of the next week. Thus their adventure for finding true love and answering that question of 'What if' begins.

This is a really sweet and charming little film. Amanda Seyfried, who is cute as a button here, carries the majority of the film all on her own and does a fine job at it. She has that sparkle in her eyes that makes you want to believe in the same kind of romance and true love that she does. And it isn't so much that her character is a die hard romantic, it is actually a combination of her wanted to help Claire because she has become invested in her journey and wanting a real life Romeo & Juliet story to tell for her first book. She brings a lot of emotion and heart to her performance that just makes you want to reach out and comfort her by giving her a big hug. Her passion for romanticism is challenged by Charlie though, a British man through and through who doesn't believe in happy endings and thinks that Sophie would be a great deal more helpful if she wasn't egging Claire on all the time.

So many women looking for their lost loves.

I will admit full-heartedly that this film is full of cliches, anybody familiar with any type of romance literature and/or films will see exactly where this film is heading. The moment when Charlie meets Sophie, the two of them butt heads and continue to do so throughout most of the film, I knew immediately what was going to happen by the end. It is telegraphed in so many ways that I can see some people, cynics mostly, getting really annoyed by the back and forth that goes on between Sophie and Charlie. The reason I think it worked for me though was a mixture of the execution, the locale and the actors.

Charlie provides a lot of the laughs in the early scenes, his constant reluctance to admit that there is any positives to them looking for his grandmother's lost lover are great. I also loved how annoyed he gets at Sophie, and while I knew where their relationship was headed it didn't effect those early scenes with them one bit. Charlie's inevitable turn around was maybe a little too convenient but I thought Egan handled that transformation rather well, plus who in the world could ever stay that annoyed and hateful towards Amanda Seyfried...I mean come on now, look at those eyes! The third piece to their little entourage is probably the most effective and emotional part of the film to me.

Sophie, Claire, and Charlie team up for a little Italian adventure.

While the moments between Sophie and Charlie are lovely and the bond they form is clearly the center of attention, it is Claire's story that provides much of the heart and warmth to the film. Lynn Redgrave as Claire was stunning and added a lot of humor to her character. Instead of playing Claire as the old woman that lived a life she didn't want, she comes at it as though she is looking to begin a new life that she denied herself when she was much much younger. When the three of them go around town knocking on the door of every Lorenzo Bartolini they can find, her reactions to each Lorenzo she meets were distinct, humorous and heartbreaking at some points. The eventual answer to Claire's 'What if' is the foundation for everything else we see and is a lesson that both Sophie and Charlie eventually learn from.

There is one more character I have neglected to mention, someone so integral to how the film works that I think everything may well have fallen apart with it. What I speak of is of course Italy itself, from the exquisite architecture of Verona to the beautiful and expansive countryside of Siena. Everywhere we are taken is absolutely breathtaking and fits with the theme of the film so perfectly that I can't imagine it taking place anywhere else. This is made even more noticeable when we jump from New York straight into Italy, there is just no comparison. The rich history of that land is on glorious display and I found every vista shot of the wine vineyards and open fields to be a true highlight for me and anyone else out there that loves picturesque locations will love it as well.

They scour all of Siena in search of Claire's Lorenzo.

Not everything is perfect here though and I did have a few issues, all minor though, with the film. First off is Sophie's fiance Victor, I have no idea how the two of them ever started dating let alone got engaged to be married. He is such a lush, he clearly puts his job ahead of everything and almost never gives Sophie the time of day. He knows she wants to be a writer but the few things she has written he just blows off even though he continuously professes his love to her...while in the kitchen. I would have to say he is a pretty one note character now that I think about it, he is funny guy, especially around food he loves but oh man, I could tell the two of them were done from the first moment I saw them together. He just seemed to be much more cartoonish than anyone else in the film which made him stand out and not in a good way.

The other thing that bothered me slightly, and this may come off as a bit hypocritical, were the ever present cliches. I know what kind of film this is and I knew what the outcome was going to be but they could have done a little better job hiding certain aspects of it. The way Charlie and Sophie begin to fall for each other is kind of right in your face, there is no subtlety to any of it. As a matter of fact, there is a precise moment when Charlie ceases being a jerk and for the life of me I couldn't figure out why. I understand that he is starting to like Sophie but that transition could have been handled a little better I think. Thankfully both actors, especially Amanda Seyfried, were up to the task of making their characters as relatable and likable as possible which helped me swallow those cliche ridden scenes.

They really do make a sweet couple.

Any other concerns are not really valid concerns actually. One could argue that the film is filled with coincidences but then again the film is about destiny and how certain things happen for a reason. When you go into a film like this you have to accept certain aspects of the genre or you will come out hating it. And the last thing you want to do his hate this film, it is full of such good intentions. The one thing I ask of my romantic comedies is that I don't feel insulted, I feel a connection to the characters and that it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I have to say that Letters to Juliet gave me all those things and did it all gracefully. So, if you are looking for an answer to your 'What if" and want a glimpse at what can happen when you find your destiny then by all means...


Letters to Juliet (Single-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)


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